Ottawa’s plan to get rid of military sexual assault cases sparks disputes with provinces

OTTAWA – A dispute between the federal government and the provinces over funding and other resources is slowing efforts to transfer military police investigations and prosecutions of alleged sex crimes to civilian authorities.

Defense Minister Anita Anand said last November that the Canadian Armed Forces would begin transferring criminal sex offenses to civilian police forces and the courts on an interim basis.

The decision followed an interim recommendation by Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor, who was in the midst of an external review of sexual misconduct and harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. She said moving cases from the military to the police and civilian courts was necessary to address widespread mistrust and doubts about the military’s ability to properly handle such cases.

Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Simon Trudeau, the army’s top police officer, reported last month that 22 new investigations and nine pre-existing cases had been accepted by civilian police forces, including the RCMP, municipal police forces in Quebec and some other provinces.

What Trudeau did not say was that at least 23 cases have been rejected by civil authorities and remain with military police amid a disagreement between Ottawa and several provinces over funding and other resources.

Anand cited those numbers in a letter last month to then-Ontario Attorney General Sylvia Jones, urging Jones to pressure the province’s police and courts to accept the transfers.

“Our goal is for the civil police services to investigate and the civil courts to prosecute all sexual crimes of the Penal Code allegedly committed by a CAF member,” Anand wrote in the letter sent on June 5.

“The civil justice system and civil law enforcement already have jurisdiction over these Penal Code crimes, and I urge them to work to ensure they exercise their jurisdiction and enforce the law.”

Anand’s letter did not mention funding or other federal support despite receiving a letter from Jones three months earlier highlighting the need for additional resources to accommodate military cases in Ontario’s “already strained system.” .

Anand instead said the federal government was considering permanently removing military jurisdiction over criminal sex crimes, a move that would leave all such investigations and prosecutions in the lap of the provinces.

A spokeswoman for Ontario Attorney General Michael Kerzner, who took over Jones’s portfolio last month, underscored the provincial government’s assertion that Ottawa needs to provide additional resources to facilitate case transfers.

“This includes the federal government providing hard data to local police services on the cases that will be transferred so that they are equipped to investigate and pursue potential charges interprovincially and internationally in a way that supports victims of sexual assault,” spokeswoman Hannah Jensen said in a statement. E-mail.

Ontario is not alone in the request.

A statement from the British Columbia Ministry of Public Safety and Attorney General also calls for “adequate resources and consistent protocols, procedures and standards to support both survivors and civilian police.”

“We will continue to engage with BC law enforcement agencies, victim services and (the) BC Prosecution Service as CAF works to implement case transfers,” the statement read.

In his final report released in late May, Arbor noted that some police forces and associations representing police chiefs had publicly and privately opposed his earlier recommendation that the military transfer the cases to their jurisdictions.

These included the Ontario Provincial Police, the Ontario Police Chiefs Association, and its counterpart in British Columbia.

However, he noted that other provinces and police services had agreed to accept such cases, including Quebec. He went on to argue that based on historical trends, every province other than Ontario was likely to have fewer than 25 additional cases per year.

Ontario is likely to see about 70 new cases, but Arbor said those numbers were not a justification for refusing to transfer them.

“The number of cases, spread across the country, with a slightly higher volume around CAF bases and wings, and virtually none elsewhere, hardly justifies this refusal to enforce the law,” he said of those who oppose take military cases.

“The specific need for additional resources, if any, can be easily identified and accommodated.”

Arbor went on to predict that unless the federal government formally removes the military’s jurisdiction over criminal sex crimes, Ottawa and the provinces will engage in “endless discussions” between the two sides.

While the spokesman for the Provost Marshal, Lt. Cmdr. James Bresolin says military police continue to handle cases that their civilian counterparts have refused to take on, raising new concerns about the impact on victims of sex crimes.

“The concern for the victims is really that there seems to be a kind of conflict situation where some of the provinces essentially don’t want to take the cases,” said Megan MacKenzie, an expert on military sexual misconduct at Simon Fraser University in BC.

“Victims will be affected if there is this kind of back and forth between different authorities and potentially lack of resources and disputes over who should handle these cases.”

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Institute of Global Affairs, whose book on military sexual misconduct was published last month, worried about victims who may have come forward only because they thought their cases would not be handled by the military.

“That is going to contribute to the re-traumatization of people who have waited decades to come forward.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 10, 2022.

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